Last updated: Leadership during times of change: Getting comfortable with discomfort

Leadership during times of change: Getting comfortable with discomfort


Listen to article

Download audio as MP3

During visits to India, many young professionals seek my advice on career direction, and I’ve always tried to avoid the usual clichés like, “follow your passion,” etc.

Organizations and business environments change, and not all of the roles that you take may match with your passion, but one does need a set of rules to live by.

Leadership during times of change: Advice is a dish best served real

During times of change and challenge, I always refer to two mantras, and I recommend them for those in moments of reflection and progress :

  1. “The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese.”
  2. “Do not change because you want to move away from something; change because you want to move towards something.”

Those familiar with the book “Who Moved My Cheese” by Dr. Spencer Johnson will quickly recognize the first one. I was introduced to it by my first boss and long-time friend and mentor in 2001 when I joined him to grow a pioneering entrepreneurial venture.

The second quote is from a conversation with a senior IT executive , a former customer of mine, and now a CIO at a leading workplace productivity enterprise.

In a nearly two decade long career across sales, solutions, and products focused on helping enterprises transform, I have found myself at a cross-road often, and I have always mustered up the courage to venture into the unknown, and now I have a bag filled with a well-rounded portfolio of experiences.

In April 2014, I exited a venture I founded to step back into the corporate world, entering a new world of API’s, messaging, and communication services. Over the course of the year, I worked with the leadership team to put together a bold new strategy to transform our positioning from messaging to multi-channel communication services.

A new space often means a new discomfort

In my new role, I entered unchartered waters – not simply from a product management point of view – but also from the complexity of bringing multiple services and integrations into other apps into a simple, easy-to-consume offering for customer.

Executing to such complexity involves aligning cross-functional teams to a cohesive vision and aligning expectations to meet their charter.

Here are the four themes I leaned on during this time of change:

1.) Lay out a clear, compelling vision.

This aligns everyone on the “why” and “what” of the mission.

2.) Take input from all stakeholders, but maintain focus on the vision as your own.

After all opinions and suggestions were taken, I put together a long-term a vision that was as much agreed upon as it was owned. Sometimes, it makes sense to take your vision through a “napkin test”  – ensuring  the vision is simple enough that everyone gets it.

3.) Have a plan and be systematic in execution.

This is where perseverance comes in. For me, perseverance follows naturally from ownership of vision. We used, distributed, and shared service resources extensively and the use of internal case management tools and extensive governance and cadence served the purpose well. Regardless, there were many occasions demanding the need to take charge to deliver to the plan.

4.) Gain horizontal proficiency.

In my world view of things, this one is a must-have. Horizontal knowledge provides the ability to persist through an idea with greater clarity and frame the right questions for deep dive.

Gaining proficiency can only help you become more familiar – and thereby more comfortable – with what you’re doing.

True leadership means jumping in and doing what’s necessary

Looping back to the beginning, on-going innovations should focus on disrupting existing business models and creating new avenues for growth. To accelerate such innovation, leaders and associates need to explore rotational roles.

Small or large, it helps build organizational maturity, a leadership bench, and insights into needs of different audiences, as well as ability to shift into “follower” or “leader” roles as appropriate. True leaders will do what it takes to get the job done, and inspire others with their approach.

Are you ready to take on a challenge?

Get inspired by leaders across all industries at the biggest CX event in North America

Share this article


Search by Topic beginning with